MI6 case may become second 'Spycatcher'

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The Independent Online
A former MI6 agent appeared in court yesterday charged with disclosing confidential information about his work. The case, writes Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent, threatens to became a repeat of the notorious Spycatcher affair.

John Tomlinson, 34, was named for the first time yesterday as the former MI6 agent accused of trying to publish a book containing sensitive secrets. He is the first person to be charged under the 1989 Official Secrets Act and could face up to two years in jail if convicted.

He is accused of providing an Australian publisher earlier this year with a synopsis of a book about the Secret Intelligence Service. MI6 argued that information obtained from his time in the service from 1991 to 1995 would be highly damaging.

Mr Tomlinson, who was named after his lawyer successfully applied for reporting restrictions to be lifted, is understood to have worked in Moscow and Bosnia, recruited spies and was involved in Middle Eastern intelligence.

He was dismissed by MI6 and attempted to take his case to an industrial tribunal, but Malcolm Rifkind, the then Foreign Secretary, prevented it citing "national security reasons".

He was remanded in custody yesterday at Bow Street Magistrates' Court in London for a week, charged under Section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1989.

Dru Sharpling, the Crown Prosecution Service solicitor, said that after leaving the intelligence service, Mr Tomlinson had indicated to his former employers that he was writing a book. MI6 obtained injunctions preventing any publication of the book, but he continued with the enterprise, the court was told. Ms Sharpling said "in May of this year it was discovered that he might be intending to write a book and to give that book to publishers in Australia.

"Officers of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch were dispatched to Australia to interview a publisher who was able to give direct evidence of Tomlinson's intention to publish his manuscript. We really fear that he will continue to endeavour to make his manuscript available."

He was known to have "excellent knowledge" of the workings of the Internet and it was feared that he intended to publish in that medium too, she said.

Outside the court, Mr Tomlinson's solicitor, John Wadham, said: "My client has a genuine grievance against the Secret Intelligence Service which he has never been able to put forward in an independent tribunal or court. It is what he has been trying to do all along."

Last night David Shayler, the former MI5 officer against whom the Government obtained an injunction preventing publication of allegations about the way the service worked, said he was prepared to stay on the run for years if necessary.

He told BBC2's Newsnight programme: "I have been advised it would be very difficult to extradite me for what I have done. All I have done is to criticise the British state ..."